DCU renames campus buildings after trailblazing women scientists

6 Jul 2017

From left: Prof Brian MacCraith, president of DCU; Minister for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor, TD; and Gini Mauchly Calcerano, daughter of Kay McNulty. Image: Maxwells

Six buildings at DCU are getting new names, and three of them honour pioneering women in the fields of computing, crystallography and astronomy.

What’s in a name? Well, if it’s a name on a university building, it’s a name that students, staff and visitors will see, day in and day out. And if those names are mostly of men, it does not promote gender diversity and inclusion.

Dublin City University (DCU) is not about to let that happen, and yesterday (5 July), its new Project 50:50 initiative saw six buildings on campus officially bear new names, three of them after trailblazing women in the areas of science, technology, engineering and maths.

The honourees were Kathleen (Kay) McNulty, Dame Kathleen Lonsdale, Mary Brück, Sir George Gabriel Stokes, Guglielmo Marconi and Prof Michael J MacCormac.  

Family, DCU staff and visitors packed into the foyer of the McNulty Building (home of DCU School of Computing) to see the unveiling of a new plaque. Attendees included McNulty’s daughter, Gini Mauchly Calcerano (travelling from the US with husband Guy), as well as honouree Mary Brück’s brother, Loman Conway, and her son, Peter Brück.

DCU president Prof Brian MacCraith welcomed the families, to enormous cheers from the extended relatives who had travelled to be at the occasion.

Speaking to Siliconrepublic.com, Mauchly Calcerano said: “The women from ENIAC, they were the first computers, they got very little recognition over the years, and the idea that an entire computer science building would be named after my mother is really exciting. The other thing for me is the huge number of people who turned out for the event – I let a couple of cousins know and the word got out.” 

Recognition, visibility and inspiration

Recognition, visibility and inspiration are key words for the Project 50:50 initiative to name half of the buildings in DCU after women, according to MacCraith.

“It is to recognise the achievements, but it is creating very prominent visibility for those trailblazers, and it is about inspiring students themselves,” he told Siliconrepublic.com. “Students will see in front of them physical manifestations of role models who have made major achievements in computing, crystallography, astronomy and other areas.”

And why were these particular female trailblazers chosen for the renamed buildings? “We tried to find individuals who had some resonance with the activity of the university itself in terms of priority areas, and we tried to find people with strong connections to Ireland,” said MacCraith, acknowledging the excellent historical resources gathered by the late science communicator, Mary Mulvihill, herself a graduate of DCU.  

“We were aware from Inspirefest of Kay McNulty, and she was a pioneering woman in the 1940s in computing, from Donegal; she was a native Irish speaker. Then Dame Kathleen Lonsdale from County Kildare had established the flatness of the benzene ring (an important organic chemical compound), and Mary Brück was an important figure in astronomy – where DCU has a growing commitment – and, in her later years she spent a lot of time on outreach, promoting astronomy and astrophysics to young women.”

Minister for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor, TD, spoke at the event before unveiling the plaque to commemorate McNulty. “The strongest pipeline for the future is one which is fully representative of both women and men as the demands of tomorrow’s economy [require] a diverse mix of skills,” she said.

“Science needs more female leadership. Our universities need more female leadership. Ireland needs more female leadership. Let’s provide it.”

Dr Claire O’Connell is a scientist-turned-writer with a PhD in cell biology and a master’s in science communication